Edrees (Eddie) Rashan became interested in the life sciences as a college sophomore. He’d heard of DNA but never really appreciated what it looked like, how it was made, or the characteristics that make it so important to life. He eventually switched majors from engineering to biochemistry to learn about biomolecules and how they function and has been studying them ever since.
As a graduate student in the Pagliarini and Simcox Labs, Rashan has explored how to pair an uncharacterized enzyme with its substrates in a dedicated effort to understand more about mitochondrial lipid metabolism, a highly complicated process involving a multitude of enzymes that control the fate and actions of diverse lipids. He likens this to “trying to complete the blueprint of how mitochondria make and break lipids.”
His investigation into the enzymatic activities of different mitochondrial proteins led to the identification of new substrates for uncharacterized enzymes. Rashan also contributed to development of analytical techniques that simultaneously measure proteins and lipids from biological samples that will be advantageous for lipid metabolism research. More recently, he discovered a set of enzymes that catabolize an understudied class of “atypical” fatty acids that’s nevertheless found widely throughout mammalian systems. This latest discovery is the focus of his Ph.D. thesis research.
Rashan says that he can’t talk much about this discovery in advance of his thesis defense (his work is unpublished), but that it’s been gratifying.
“What started as a cool observation in a test tube has led to the discovery that atypical lipids are regulated by these enzymes in cells and mice,” Rashan says. “Fatty acid catabolism has been studied for over a century, so it’s kind of surreal to be able to add something fundamentally new to the field.”
Down the road, Rashan says, his results may have implications for our understanding of diseases such as coronary artery disease and insulin resistance.
After defending his Ph.D. thesis research, Rashan will continue his training with the Pagliarini and Simcox labs as a postdoctoral researcher, where he’ll be extending some of his research projects and learning additional lipid metabolism research techniques. His goal is to become a professor and lead his own research program that studies lipids in contexts spanning the immune system and metabolism.
Rashan was inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Honor Society in 2021. In 2022, he was invited to present his thesis work at the University of Utah Rising Stars in Metabolism Symposium in 2022. He is also a Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) trainee and SciMed Graduate Research Scholar.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with and trained under so many talented and supportive individuals. I’ve learned a lot from the senior graduate students and postdocs when I first started graduate school about the balance of scientific endeavor and becoming your best self,” Rashan says. “They’ve helped me build my own self-confidence and inspired courage to take on difficult challenges in this enterprise.”
To learn more about Rashan’s research, attend his Ph.D. defense on Thursday, December 8 at 3:00 p.m. CT in Room 1211 of the DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building.